Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Honor Roll of 2015

In the blogosphere, one might wonder in a bit of self-centered reflection whether or not a post... reflecting on the year that was on the 14th of January is a sign of the relevence apocolypse.  And to do so on the same day as the Oscar nominations.  The reality of me as an Oscar watcher...a pop culture swallower and film lover is that I love this process, every year...even the years in which the "job" is full of obstacles. The twisted reality is that those challenging seasons are the ones I love the most.  And to begin, one simply has to take the first step.  Let's consider this my true entrance into the Oscar season.

I think I'm in a little better shape than I was last year in terms of my movie watching. Which is certainly a good thing, because once the Oscar nominations are announced (and by the time you are reading this, I'm betting they will have been announced) I will be moving full throttle.  Already making the concerted effort to see everything I can in order to truly understand the year that was, seen from the eyes of the Academy.  I could probably post a strong top 10 right now.  With a very good top 5, for sure.  But I have yet to see certain films, "The Hateful Eight" (although it is near the top of my screener pile), "Son of Saul," "The Big Short," "Creed," "45 Years," and the Best Picture Drama winner at the Globes, "The Revenant."  Hmmm...maybe I'm not in good shape after all.

I'm not going to rush this experience of discovery.  One thing I do have a sense of is how 2015 affected me.  Here are a few of the highlights.  Things that affected me in a positive way and a couple of realizations that aren't quite worthy of dishonor, but certainly of note.

1.  Cheryl Strayed and Dear Sugar

Podcasts have had a major role in my Awards Wiz Awards starting all the way back in 2010 when Pop Culture Happy Hour landed in the number 2 spot.  In 2013, "Strangers" topped the list and last year "Podcasting" in general was the winner.  Yet again, a very special podcast has touched my heart and it is Dear Sugar with Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond.

From the website:  The universe has good news for the lost, lonely and heartsick. Dear Sugar — the cult-favorite advice column from The Rumpus — is back, but this time speaking right into your ears. Hosted by the original Sugars, Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, the podcast fields all your questions — no matter how deep or dark — and offers radical empathy in return. 

"Dear Sugar" is an absolute delight for me.  Cheryl Strayed (you may know her as the author and subject of "Wild") and Steve Almond (author and essayist extraordinaire) have stayed very true to their format of taking turns with readers' letters followed by a banter of digging deep into the letter and carefully and thoughtfully advising.  Where other podcasts have strayed from their origins ("Stranger" for instance went on a very me at least...tangent delving into creator Lea Thau's love life.  And Pop Culture Happy Hour, while still entertaining, has become a little too self aware as time has gone on...especially in its live shows and with certain panelists who once had genuine thoughts to coming across as stock personalities almost like SNL versions of themselves) DS is still right on track.  Two recent additions...the calling of the letter writers and catching up with past previous subjects has simply enhanced the show.

In addition to the podcast itself there is also the original column...which has been around for quite sometime. And where I found this gem which gave me the fuel to continue, continue CONTINUE!

"How many women wrote beautiful novels and stories and poems and essays and plays and scripts and songs in spite of all the crap they endured. How many of them didn’t collapse in a heap of “I could have been better than this” and instead went right ahead and became better than anyone would have predicted or allowed them to be. The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength. It’s nerve. And “if your Nerve, deny you –,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “go above your Nerve.” Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.
You need to do the same, dear sweet arrogant beautiful crazy talented tortured rising star glowbug. That you’re so bound up about writing tells me that writing is what you’re here to do. And when people are here to do that they almost always tell us something we need to hear. I want to know what you have inside you. I want to see the contours of your second beating heart.
So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker."
And the person. Or at least ONE person.   Cheryl Strayed herself.  This time last year I watched "Wild" for the first time.   Her journey of self reflection and self discovery was and is so inspiring.  She has such a unique voice and perspective which has no difficulty penetrating through the gunk.  And she wasn't afraid to take on Steve Almond's opinion regarding "weight issues" in relationships...while somehow respecting him at the same time.  It is a must listen!

2. Nostalgia...Star Wars, and JJ Abrams

One of my earliest memories is being at a dinner party at the Hillindale Country Club in Corinth, MS with my parents (who knows why they let me tag along) with a bunch of stuffy adults in suits and ties and feeling the intense need to explain the inner workings of "The Empire Strikes Back" to anyone within earshot...waitstaff and janitors included.

Since I can remember "Star Wars" has held a very important place in my heart.  Interestingly enough though...I have never really attributed my current love for film to my earliest experiences watching movies. It didn't all begin when I saw "Moonstruck"when I was supposed to be on the other side of the Twin Cinema watching Police Academy 4 and accidentally found myself in the wrong theater.  Or when I watched "The Godfather" at 14 years old...or even when I saw "Pulp Fiction" at the now extinct Hulka Movie Theater...when I was a mere 17 or 18 years old, beyond blown away.

My mother saw one film when she was pregnant with me, and that was "Jaws."  The first film I saw outside the womb, at the drive in, was "Raiders of the Lost Ark."  And then there was "The Empire Strikes Back" which I saw in its re-release in 1981.  I could go on and on about how cinema has shaped me as a person...but I wouldn't even be addressing this had it not been for "The Star Wars: The Force Awakens."  I honestly don't think there is much I can add to the conversation in terms of the film itself, except that in pure JJ Abrams fashion, he took a mold, and instead of turning it upside down or completely redefining it, he altered the parts.  A female Jedi/hero.  A minority lead.  A funny, menacing, complicated villain.  I believe the few (but loud) naysayers of this film take for granted that this was actually sewn into the fabric of this franchise.  THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN in big huge blockbusters.   Thank you JJ for taking Star Wars to a NEW place in an familiar fashion....and for taking me back to my childhood.

4.  The Holidays

Call me crazy, but I'm not one of those people who feels bombarded and attacked by the Christmas holidays.  Or offended by, well, anything.  Certainly not a red cup or a "bleeding" polar bear.  I love when the Christmas commercials start.  It generally means that not only is time with family going to occur, but fun, cheesy, and brilliant entertainment is on its way as well.  It is the time of O. Russell, Tarantino and Oscar as well as "A Diva's Christmas Carol" and "Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever."  On my way home from work a few nights ago I saw the "90% off Christmas" sigh flashing at my local pharmacy.  And when I got home and settled in to my DVR, catching up on belated television I got a little bit of nostalgia with the holiday commercials that continued to play when I was too lazy to fast forward.  And then I realized the show was recorded in October.  Oh well.

5.  Netflix, Netflix, Netflix

This is the year that Netflix seems to have really hit its stride for me.  Especially in the beginning of the year.  We still have "Orange is the New Black" as well at "House of Cards" and "The Fall," but 2015 also brought us "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and "Grace and Frankie" which I binged back to back.  And then...a few months later..."Jessica Jones" and "Master of None."  I honestly can't tell you when these shows were actually released, and have yet to finish them all, but the journey of discovery on Netflix is such a joy.

But this....

1.  Over-saturation

That being said.  Do I really need to watch every new show on Netflix?  Unfortunately "We Hot American Summer" still didn't work for me.  And although a great idea, I simply did not have time to watch "A Very Murry Christmas."  Hopefully next holiday.  Although I'm so happy for the shows Netflix has created, it does seem as if they announce a new series every week or so.  I haven't even had the chance to watch "Bloodline" or finish the last seasons of "House of Cards" or "Orange is the New Black."

After finally catching up on "The Good Wife" and "Scream Queens" as well as "American Horror Story: Hotel" And watching the very interesting "American Crime..." I wondered, what on earth was I watching to keep me away from these great hours of television.   Is "Quantico" truly worth my time?  How about all the "Facts of Life" reruns I watched in 2015. There is probably a reason I felt the need to go back to 80s television for something I really enjoyed.  And as much as I enjoyed "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and "Fresh of the Boat" and even "Modern Family" in its beginning, do I have to watch going forward...especially when the show is more background entertainment than anything else?

Do I HAVE to watch "Supergirl?"  Do I really need to keep watching "Teen Wolf" when I don't even know what's going on anymore?  Do I really need to listen to every podcast?  Maybe not.

I'm not exactly sure what the answer is...and I'm not quite ready to cut the chord on certain shows and aspects of my pop culture world.  But I am opening my eyes to the fact that I cannot continue my attempt to become or maintain the idea that I am a pop culture sponge.  Otherwise, I might not be able to contribute to the world as an artist.

We shall see what 2016 brings.

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